Elite League play-off final: Cardiff Devils beat Belfast Giants 2-1
Cardiff Devils beat Belfast Giants 2-1 to lift the Elite League play-off title for a second successive season.
The Devils struck the first blow in the latter stages of the opening period as Mike Hedden crashed a shot past Tyler Beskorowany.
Devils goaltender Ben Bowns kept his side ahead, making last-ditch save after save in the second period.
Kevin Raine tied the score with 10 minutes to go before Gleason Fournier struck home the winner.
The Giants almost got off to the perfect start when the Elite League's top scorer Darcy Murphy rushed clear but Bowns saved his effort onto the post.
After five solid minutes of constant pressure from the Giants the Devils began to grow into the contest.
Charles Linglet first, then Matt Pope, had efforts saved by Beskorowany in the Giants goal to keep the game goalless.
Midway through the first period the intensity cranked up a notch and the hard hits started flying in from both teams, giving the game the feeling of the play-off final it was.
A high-looking hit from the Devils on Murphy went unpunished and ended the forward's match, much to the outrage of the Giants fans and players.
Kyle Baun and Jordan Smotherman both sat two minutes as tempers flared, for tripping and interference respectively, handing the league's best powerplay team a golden opportunity.
But even when five-on-three they could not find a way past Beskorowany; the Giants living up to their statistics of the best penalty kill team in the league.
However it was when the numbers were restored that the Devils found their opener, courtesy of Hedden.
The puck broke kindly to last summer's signing and, with a man spare to his left, he opted to shoot himself to great success.
Giants almost conceded the most comical goal early in the middle period as the puck flew in the air above their own goal, an attempted control with the hand almost saw the puck drop into their own net.
A goal down, and with the Grand Slam still up for grabs, the Giants pushed on, but the last few minutes of the second period was the Ben Bowns show.
The Devils goaltender saved shot after shot, perhaps most impressively a reflex catch to deny Jordan Smotherman.
The one time the Giants got the better of Bowns in the second period Colin Shields could only watch on as his shot bounced away off the post.
As the final period got under way the tension inside the Motorpoint Arena increased as the Devils fans willed their team through the final 20 minutes.
Devils' top goal-scorer Joey Martin came closest to easing the nerves of the travelling Welsh fans but once more Beskorowany denied him.
With 10 minutes left, the Giants finally got the better of Bowns when Raine's shot through a crowd of bodies found the back of the net to set up a grandstand finish.
Just as it looked like the Northern Irish side were in the ascendancy the Devils hit straight back through Fournier.
The Giants took off Beskorowany for the man advantage but they could not find the equaliser they needed and the Devils held on to clinch the title.
Cardiff Devils coach Andrew Lord told BBC Sport Wales:
"It's wild, the ups and downs of this season, it's been a rollercoaster ride all year.
"I'm just so proud of the guys. To come up short on the final day and to lose on a tie breaker is gut-wrenching, and I'm not sure too many teams would be able to come back and do this.
"To see our goaltender play the way he did tonight, I'm so proud of him.
"The way the guys put their bodies on the line is something else. I just feel really fortunate to be a part of it right now. It's a good time."
Panthers take third place
In the third-fourth place final, which both coaches freely admitted they did not want to be a part of, it was the Panthers that came out on top with a 9-5 win.
Neither team looked enthused in the early moments but it was Nottingham's forwards who looked the more determined to finish the season on a high.
Mark Hurtubise and Alexandre Bolduc put the Panthers two goals up before youngster Josh Tetlow, who scored his first goal of the season yesterday, bagged another to make it three.
Panthers top scorer Alex Guptill scored his 41st goal of the season to put the hosts 4-0 up within the first period.
The Flames looked a shadow of the team they were on Saturday against Giants but they did pull a goal back through Jamie Crooks.
Panthers added two more goals through Hurtubise and Guptill before there was great concern for Flames' Josh Dunbar.
The forward was struck in the face by the puck which caused a long injury delay and ended the forward's match but thankfully he was able to get back to his feet and skate gingerly off the ice.
Hurtubise got his hat-trick before the Flames added another through their top-points scorer Kruise Reddick as the second period ended 7-2.
Panthers defenceman Guillaume Lepine and forward Justin Kovacs scored two soft goals either side of a Flames consolation from Evan Janssen.
Janssen added his second of the game and Erik Lindhagen scored a fifth for Guildford as they finished the game on top, but the result was already beyond doubt.
Panthers ended the play-offs in third for a second season in a row while for Guildford it is a fourth place finish in just their second Elite League season.